WITH less than 50 days until the State Election, Hugh Delahunty is now in the closing stages of the last quarter of his political career.
In politics as in football, all careers come to an end.
Bill McGrath vacated the seat of Wimmera prior to the 1999 election, giving Mr Delahunty his chance to contest the seat.
Both played in the VFL before returning to play for their home clubs of Minyip and Murtoa, both coached Donald, a Wimmera league team and a winning Wimmera interleague side.
McGrath spoke about synergies in football and politics during Mr Delahunty’s retirement dinner at the Horsham Golf Club.
“In football you pick up the ball, you run through the pack, you cop a couple and you hand a couple out, but as long as you carry the ball out the other side you’re all right,” he said.
“And that’s the way it is in politics.
“If you’re carrying the ball after you come through the pack in politics you’re going to be a survivor.”
A successful survivor of the electorate, Mr Delahunty grew the hold he had over his seat throughout his time in parliament.
He won 58 per cent of the two-party vote in Wimmera in 1999, 67 per cent in Lowan in 2002 and 72 per cent in 2006 and 2010.
The room was packed for Mr Delahunty’s send off.
About 200 people from local government, business and community organisations, state and federal parliamentarians and a range of other community members celebrated the career of the local member known to most as ‘Hughie’.
In a charming, if not somewhat bizarre performance, Elvis – played by Member for Western Victoria David O’Brien – belted out a rendition of Up There Delahunty to the tune of Mike Brady’s Up There Cazaly.
He was joined in the chorus on stage by a collection of Delahuntys, including Hugh’s sister and former Bracks Labor Government minister Mary Delahunty.
“Mum and dad said it’s no good whingeing outside the fence, if you want to have an influence on anything you’ve got to find your way inside the fence,” Mr Delahunty said.
“It’s about getting inside the fence and doing something about it.”
Mr Delahunty was inside the fence of public life for 26 years – 15 in State Parliament.
He nominated the Wimmera-Mallee Pipeline, his achievements as Minister for Sport and Veterans Affairs and more recently the Dimboola Weir among his proudest moments.
Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said the Nationals’ party room, home to a slew of former VFL footballers, would regularly tell stories of Delahunty’s tough and uncompromising playing style.
“It’s fascinating because in the parliament you didn’t see this come out quite as brutally,” he said.
“In fact, when Hugh got to his feet and really had a go at the other side, you always had the sense he’d get stuck into them policy-wise, but he never played the man.
“He was always very careful to respect those on the other side of the house as well as our side of the house – respect their opinions and treat them accordingly.”
Mr Delahunty leaves Parliament with rare affection from both sides of the political divide.
“Never once in his 15 years has Hugh Delahunty ever been ejected from the parliament for his apparent misbehaviour,” Mr Ryan said.
“It is an unusual circumstance that someone can finish their time in politics and be able to walk away from it not only with the respect but truly the endearment of everybody in the place.”
Another enduring memory for many has been his ability to cover ground across the biggest geographical electorate in Victoria.
“Bill McGrath said to me when I got elected ‘you’ve got a big electorate to cover Hughie – you’ve got to wear out your shoe leather and you’ve got to wear out cars’,” Mr Delahunty said.
At his own estimate, he covered about 80,000 kilometres a year – more than 1.2 million in 15 years in Parliament.
The contribution of Mr Delahunty’s wife Judie was highlighted by everyone who spoke during the retirement dinner, including Nationals life member Bill Ower and Hindmarsh Mayor Rob Gersch.
An emotional Mrs Delahunty thanked the room for a ‘great ride’.
“We’ve loved it, we love you all and we love where we live,” she said.
And so ends the era of Hugh Delahunty for Lowan.
Like a footballer who might have a season left in him, there is a sense that Mr Delahunty’s love for the game makes him not quite ready for retirement.
But like any team player, he appreciates his team’s need to blood fresh players.
When the final siren sounds on November 29, Mr Delahunty will be able to leave the political contest with the knowledge he has earnt the respect of colleagues and constituents alike.